Thomas J. Story
A low-maintenance red fescue lawn at the 2014 Sunset Idea House acts as an extension of the covered patio.

Creeping red fescue makes a meadow in Palo Alto

Lauren Bonar Swezey  –  Updated May 21, 2021

Jenny and Toby Gottheiner may live in suburban Palo Alto, but nothing about the garden behind their house is typical of suburbia. Instead of the usual lawn surrounded by flower beds, Jenny―an avid gardener from South Africa―wanted something more natural and free-flowing. So she hired landscape architect Bob Cleaver of Lafayette to design a garden that uses traditional elements in an untraditional way.

In place of a turf lawn, Cleaver planted a meadow of native creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra) behind a seat wall made of stone from a quarry in Napa County (visible just behind the grass at far right in the photo). The low-maintenance grass adds contours to the flat lot, says Cleaver. In spring, naturalized yellow trumpet daffodils pop up around the meadow’s edges. In keeping with the garden’s casual theme, the outdoor dining area is paved with decomposed granite.

Surrounding the meadow and patio are native Californian and Mediterranean-climate trees, shrubs, and groundcovers, most of which need little water.

Richard Sullivan of Enchanting Planting, Orinda, worked with Cleaver to create a plant palette. In beds throughout the garden, they combined ceanothus, miscanthus, native coral bells, ‘Apricot Queen’ New Zealand flax, Phlomis, roses, and silver spear. Teucrium cossonii majoricum and Euphorbia myrsinites sprawl at the base of the seat wall.

“The garden is a study in color, texture, and form,” says Cleaver.

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